MS news articles for February 2001
— Judging what's reliable
is a bit old now, but I missed it first time around and it still applies]
If you're going to
surf the Web for health information, you have to be a skeptic. MayoClinic.com
offers these tips for gauging the reliability of online health information:
Don't believe everything
you read — Anyone who has the necessary hardware and software can publish
a health information Web page or offer medical advice in an online chat
forum. And the Internet has a way of making all health information appear
Be wary of sites
touting miracle cures or revolutionary therapies. Brooks S. Edwards, M.D.,
a cardiologist and medical editor of MayoClinic.com,
reminds consumers of the adage: "If something sounds too good to be true,
it probably is."
If you come across
a suspected fraudulent health claim on the Internet, contact the Federal
Trade Commission (FTC).
The Web has other
dangers beyond medical quackery. A search under depression may lead you
to Web sites that list ways of committing suicide. Some sites selling herbal
remedies suggest throwing out all prescription medications, which, for
some conditions such as high blood pressure, may be life-threatening advice.
Practice good judgment.
Stick to reliable
sources — Before delving too far into any health Web site, determine
who's sponsoring the site. If the source is an individual, ask yourself
whether he or she is qualified to give medical advice. Ask other questions,
such as: Are there any hidden agendas? Is the site trying to sell you something?
Is the information reviewed by health care professionals? How often is
material updated? Does the site adhere to the HON
code for publishing credible health information online?
Seek out the Web
sites of respected publications, major medical centers and organizations,
government agencies and medical professionals. Think of sources you would
turn to if you were at a library researching a health topic. If you're
unsure where to begin on the Web, ask a health care professional or a reference
librarian for suggestions.
Read medical studies
carefully — You come across so many medical studies online, sometimes
with conflicting conclusions, that it's hard to know what to believe. But
before you take any research finding as the truth, consider whether the
study is scientifically sound. Does it come from a reputable source? Did
the study involve more than a handful of people, and was there a control
group? Do the results show a cause-and-effect relationship or an association
between two factors? Has the work been published in a peer-reviewed medical
Marcia Angell, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine,
for tips for health-conscious consumers surfing the Web. Her main advice:
Don't change your lifestyle according to the results of one study. "I always
say there is no such thing as a 'medical breakthrough.' Medical research
works slowly and incrementally, like a glacier," notes Dr. Angell. If a
study makes you question your treatment, medication or diet, ask you doctor
whether the results apply to you.
Ask for your doctor's
opinion — If you have questions about a piece of health information,
you may want to print it out and take it to your doctor. The doctor (who
may not be familiar with a particular Web site) may be able to give you
an answer. Depending on the circumstances, it's probably unrealistic to
expect your doctor to sift through reams of printouts. It will help to
focus on the specific questions that concern you most.
the Web can make you a better-informed consumer, it can't replace the individualized
care of a doctor. "The Web can provide a way to educate consumers about
health and to link them to support groups, but it should not take the place
of the care of a physician," says Dr. Edwards. "It's one thing to visit
a health Web site for basic information on a condition such as diabetes
mellitus. It's another to provide a Web site with a list of your symptoms
(which may or may not be kept private) and expect an e-mail back that says,
'You have diabetes mellitus.'"
Web sites — Who should you trust?
November 11, 1999
© 2000 Mayo
Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).